Water Bill [Lords]

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Mr. Morley: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman will find what I am going to say helpful. To reiterate, clause 2 is a regulation power. We do not

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need that regulation power in the Bill. This is not a Bill for implementing the water framework directive; we have an adequate process for that. Much of the content of clause 2 is perfectly worthy and involves principles to which the Government are happy to sign up. Those will be transposed, in the timetable that we have agreed with the European Union in the water framework directive. It is not appropriate for this Bill to deal with those matters, which are distracting us from the Bill's main principles.

Norman Baker: I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Amess; we have seen a lot of each other this week, one way or another.

The Minister pulled every lever to try to justify removing this clause. We have been given every possible reason from the ministerial book of excuses, from page 1 to page 93—or even later. We were told that the Opposition had somehow said that clause 2 was being removed because the Government were not committed to the water framework directive. Of course they are committed to the water framework directive; no one has suggested otherwise. That was an Aunt Sally put up by the Minister. No one has suggested that; it is a complete red herring, and I invite hon. Members to disregard that comment.

The most important point concerns how we deal with major European Union directives. The hon. Members for Sherwood and for Forest of Dean made that point to the Minister, quite rightly, non-confrontationally and constructively, saying, as I understood it, that we cannot go on dealing with major legislation from Europe through secondary legislation. That is not an acceptable way for Parliament to deal with such legislation in the 21st century. I am sure that the Minister knows—he is an educated chap—that other European Union countries do not deal with secondary legislation in that way. They do not even do so in Scotland—he gave the game away on that. Scotland has bits of the water framework directive in the Bill because, as the Minister said, they do not have the range of secondary legislation there that we have. That is right. They decided to deal with things in the new Parliament rather more democratically and effectively north of the border.

It is time that we changed the way in which we deal with secondary legislation. The situation has come to a head with this measure, as the Minister knows, for two reasons. First, the water framework directive—as everyone accepts, including the Minister, his colleagues, and Opposition Members—is a hugely important piece of water legislation that affects everyone in the country. No one denies that. Secondly, its implementation by regulation and consultation is running in parallel to a Bill dealing with water. There does not seem to be much evidence of a joined-up process; even if there were, there is an argument for bringing the two together. Those two arguments, about the nature of the directive and the ongoing process, suggest that we should not have secondary legislation for such a directive. It is frankly indefensible that the arrangements in Parliament mean that such a measure is dealt with by secondary legislation.

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The hon. Member for Salisbury is right to say that scrutiny in the Standing Committees on statutory instruments is not the same. It is not the same at all. I have tried in this Parliament to give hon. Members the opportunity to amend statutory instruments. It is an all or nothing situation. I am sure that hon. Members, whether in opposition or in government, will recognise that the situation is not satisfactory. We cannot suggest sensible amendments to statutory instruments, because we are in a Russian roulette situation, or a shoot-out: we accept either everything or nothing. No one wants to reject an entire SI, so the Minister—whoever it happens to be—bluffs his or her way through and says that we should accept it, when actually it should be amended. That cannot be a satisfactory way to approach legislation.

The Minister said that the directive cannot be amended. Of course a directive has been accepted by the European Commission and the European Parliament, but a directive is an enabling piece of legislation. It is not a regulation like that on tachographs in lorries. How each country implements a directive changes. We have flexibility in how we implement the objectives set out in the directive.

Other countries use that flexibility. Scotland used it, notwithstanding the Minister's comments. Of course the entire water framework directive is not there. No one said that it was. That was another Aunt Sally in the Minister's response. Scotland has recognised the need to bring the two elements together. We have not done so down here. We are told that the water framework directive is all or nothing. We can take it or leave it. We can vote it down or vote it through. Honourable Members on the Labour Benches—I use the word ''honourable'' deliberately—will want to look at these things properly, but they will not want to be disloyal to their Government. They will end up voting for things that they would prefer to amend.

Mr. Key: In fact, it is even worse. Members of a statutory instrument Committee are not asked to agree or disagree with the substance of the discussion on the instrument, but to agree the motion that they have considered it. There is no question that they are approving what they are asked to discuss.

Norman Baker: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We will be faced with a major piece of European legislation, asked to say yea or nay with no opportunity to amend anything. We will then be in the hands of the officials at DEFRA and we must hope that they have got it right. We, as elected Members, will have no meaningful input into that process.

Another lever that the Minister pulled was to say that we have scrutiny outside Parliament. Well, dear me. Of course we have scrutiny outside Parliament. We have pressure groups, the media and all sorts of people, but that does not mean that we should not have scrutiny inside Parliament. That argument could be applied by Robert Mugabe for what is happening in Zimbabwe. There is scrutiny outside the Harare Parliament, but there is still a need for some democratic processes there.

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Mr. Wiggin: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not suggest that DEFRA should take lessons from the only Government in the world who treat their farmers worse than we do.

Norman Baker: I would not wish to align the Government with that of Robert Mugabe. The Minister and his colleagues at DEFRA are far more amenable to democracy. The fact that people outside Parliament are looking at something—as indeed they should—does not obviate the need for people inside Parliament to do the job for which we were elected, which is to scrutinise legislation, suggest amendments and make them. That applies to us wherever we are on the political spectrum. That is taken away from us by this ludicrously archaic system of unamendable secondary legislation.

I know quite a bit about Sweden, and the Swedish method of dealing with European legislation is far superior to ours. That applies to other European Union countries, as the hon. Members for Sherwood and for Forest of Dean will doubtless know. We should learn lessons and not be afraid to say that we do not do things properly in this Parliament. Even Norway, which is not even in the EU, scrutinises European legislation rather better than we do. I have been there and I have seen how it is followed in a shadow process. Half the time, people there know more about what is going on than we do.

The Minister's argument simply does not wash. He pulled another lever when he said that we should not have bits of legislation pushed into bits of Bills. We have fluoride here, so that argument falls for a start. Bits of other legislation are coming into this Bill. Even the Government admit that it is a health measure, because the Health Minister is coming along to deal with it. The only argument left to the Minister was that it was not appropriate. Dear me, is that the best we can come up with under the circumstances?

The Minister has not convinced me at all. If he does not like the words in clause 2—that was another red herring—let him amend them. I am happy to accept his views and listen carefully to him and his officials when they say that ''good'' should be ''excellent'' or vice versa. I am happy for him to say that a few words here and there are wrong, but because a few words are wrong is no reason to throw out the whole clause. The clause contains an important principle. It demonstrates even at this late stage that there is a connection between the water framework directive and the Water Bill. We all know that there is a connection, but the Minister does not want to state it explicitly in the Bill. He should. I asked him earlier to give me an absolute guarantee that the regulations would not amend the Bill, but he did not. I should like him to do so now.

Mr. Morley: Absolute guarantees are rare in any walk of life. The draft transposing regulations for the water framework directive will not affect potential changes to the Bill. Another argument against clause 2 is that I cannot say whether there will be implications for the Bill as we go through the consultation process.

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10.30 am

Norman Baker: I hear what the Minister says, but the water framework directive requires us, among other things, to

    ''promote sustainable water use based on long term protection of available water resources''

and it requires

    ''comprehensive river basin management plans to manage surface water and groundwater''

and

    ''member states to ensure that there is no deterioration in the ecological status of water bodies,''

and so on. I suggest that the regulations might impact on what we shall have agreed here in terms of extraction licences and other matters. I am grateful that the Minister has conceded that, although he does not anticipate problems, he cannot guarantee that this will not be amended. That demonstrates, yet again, that our processes are not linked, and should be.

My final point is that it is time that Members of Parliament stood up and said, ''We want to do our job. We expect to do it properly, and to scrutinise properly, and we expect important European legislation to be subject to proper scrutiny by all parties, so that hon. Members are able to know what is going on, with a proper time scale, to consider primary legislation in the way in which it should be considered and to amend.'' That point trans—

 
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